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Former Herald-Star editor James C. Smith dies

December 19, 2013
By PAUL GIANNAMORE - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - James C. Smith, managing editor of the Herald-Star from late 1984 to 1992, died Wednesday at his home in Parkersburg. He was 65.

Smith was executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. His 42-year career included stints as a reporter for the Columbus Citizen Journal and as an editor in Delaware, Ohio; Piqua; Steubenville; East Liverpool; New Iberia, La.; and Parkersburg, where he spent the last 12 years.

Smith is being remembered not only as a hard-nosed newsman, but a man who was deeply caring for the communities where he lived.

"This is a sad day for the West Virginia newspaper industry,'' said Don Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Press Association. "Jim was a veteran journalist and a strong leader.

'"In newsrooms around this state, and far beyond, there are reporters and editors who learned this profession working for Jim Smith. Jim and I worked together for Ogden Newspapers and with the West Virginia Press Association. You could always count on Jim Smith for a strong opinion, a good laugh and a word of encouragement. He will be missed in his newsroom."

Retired common pleas Judge John J. Mascio knew Smith from their involvement in the Steubenville Lions Club as well as the newspaper editor dealing with the public official.

"He came from out of town but he got involved in the community and he was an active participant in the service organizations. I think he had the best interest of the town at heart," Mascio said.

Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla became the county's top law enforcer during Smith's first full year at the Herald-Star.

"I always thought he was a straight shooter. He and Chuck Govey (former Herald-Star publisher who now is the human resource administrator for the county Department of Job and Family Services) were kind enough to give me a chance to be interviewed. Then they gave me an endorsement, and there has been no other one like it since. I will never forget it," Abdalla said.

He recalled Smith telling him to always be open in his office.

"He was a great guy. I had great respect for him but I also had fun with him. I would always chide him for those white cowboy boots he had, and he'd always come up to me and say, 'I got those boots on.' He made me promise that I'd never lock the door, regardless of what was going on, that nothing would be hidden from the public. It was a different breed back then. It was journalism," the sheriff remembered.

Alan Hall, director of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County, remembered Smith as a well-rounded reader with knowledge in many subjects.

"He was an ardent library user. He and his wife and daughter were in and out of the library what seemed like several times a week some weeks," Hall said. "We often had discussions about literature, books, trends of libraries. I'm sorry to see his passing. There was hardly a subject that didn't interest him in some way. We'd talk about everything from politics to society to children's literature.

"He certainly was the perfect parent with his daughter, making sure she had access to libraries and that she pretty much was allowed to read whatever she wanted as long as she discussed it with dad," Hall remembered, saying he had a similar policy with his son.

It was as a newsman that most people in the area will recall Smith, especially at the Herald-Star. Govey was Smith's boss, the publisher, for about 10 years.

"I was saddened to say the least upon hearing that my friend of so many years had passed away," Govey said. "We just received a Christmas card from him with the annual update, and all seemed well, then came this call. I never expected it.

"Jim was an honest, hardworking and sincere individual, dedicated to fulfilling the mission of the newspaper and working daily to bring a well-balanced news product to the community. He believed in the community and its people and felt the area had much to offer," Govey said. "He, his wife and daughter fell in love with our community and the people from our area from day one. We worked closely together on many projects involving the paper and the community over the years, and when you work with someone in teamwork, you spend hours with them, you get to know them.

"Jim was truly sincere about everything he was doing," Govey said. "We had the privilege together of leading the newspaper from letter press to offset (printing), from typewriter to computer, adding new informational products with a lot of exciting years together. He will be missed by his family, friends and I am sure by the community he has been dedicated to."

Roberta Penebaker of East Liverpool had been the head of human services and accounting at the Herald-Star during Smith's tenure.

"If he believed in something, he believed in it. He had a tenacity you wouldn't believe," she said. "He did a lot of good, but it sometimes was hidden behind that boisterous cowboy boot attitude he had, but I think if there were more people like him, the world would be a better place - if he said it, he did it. If he promised, he followed through."

News Editor Fred Rossano has been at the Herald-Star since the 1970s and has worked for a number of editors.

"You always knew where you stood with Jim. You may not always have agreed with him, but I think we all respected him as a newsman. With Jim, the paper always came first, as it should," he said. "And that even applied when a complaint arose. He would defend his reporters even if he knew they were obviously at fault, then settle things later with the reporter," Rossano recalled.

"I think he really preferred being more of the 'tough' guy in the office, and the easy-going guy outside the office," he said.

The cowboy boots were a trademark with Smith in Steubenville recalled by many who spoke of the former editor.

Marian Houser, retired longtime city editor and community editor, was the city editor when Smith took the newsroom reins after the late Tom Waller.

"He had a very different managerial style and a very different sense of humor than our previous editor, but he was good at his job. I think everyone who worked with him remembers those cowboy boots and the path he wore in the tile," she said.

"That path ran from his desk to mine," Houser said, "and it remained until the new carpet was put down."

Funeral arrangements are pending in Parkersburg.

(The Parkersburg News and Sentinel contributed to this report.)

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